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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Creating a one-stop shop for community health needs in New London

    Volunteer Carlos Santos pulls a wagon through the the former bar of the American Legion Hall on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteer Chris Smith unpacks canned goods for the weekly Food to the People pantry in the Spencer Lancaster Sr. CommUNITY Room on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteer Carrie Burger carries a box of food through the former bar of the American Legion Hall on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteer Connie Williams unpacks bags of apples for the weekly Food to the People pantry in the Spencer Lancaster Sr. CommUNITY Room on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteers, from left, Gina Taveras, Mario Soto and Susana Incarnation unpack baked food items for the weekly Food to the People pantry in the Spencer Lancaster Sr. CommUNITY Room on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteers get ready for the weekly Food to the People pantry in the Spencer Lancaster Sr. CommUNITY Room on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteer Saturnino Hernandez unpacks grapefruits for the weekly Food to the People pantry in the Spencer Lancaster Sr. CommUNITY Room on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Volunteers Chris Smith, left, and Carrie Burger pack a wagon of canned tomatoes in the former bar of the American Legion Hall on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Signs on the wall of the the Spencer Lancaster Sr. CommUNITY Room collect community thoughts Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Ledge Light Health and other partners are turning the former American Legion Hall on Garfield Avenue in New London into "The Place," a community well-being space. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London ― No one can accuse Jennifer Muggeo of thinking small.

    The Ledge Light Health District director of health on Wednesday walked through sections of the former American Legion Hall at 74 Garfield Ave. pointing out the possibilities of the space.

    “We’re looking to add a pair of offices here, maybe with tele-health options,” Muggeo said from inside a main community room where dozens of FRESH New London volunteers prepped for group’s weekly food distribution event. “We envision renovating the old kitchen and transforming the back bar area into a true food pantry.”

    The Legion hall this month was formally rebranded as The Place for CommUNITY Wellbeing ―“The Place” for short ― and will be overseen by members of the Health Improvement Collaborative of Southeastern Connecticut, or HIC, a partnership involving more than 40 agencies – including Ledge Light and FRESH ― all working toward the same goal.

    “Making southeastern Connecticut a place where all individuals can achieve their individual health goals,” Muggeo said.

    And The Place will play a central role in that mission, Muggeo said, by providing residents with a one-stop shop for everything from medical screenings and overdose prevention training to nutrition programming and vaccination offerings.

    “We wanted to bring everyone together in one location,” Muggeo said. “Maybe you’re somebody that already knows what kinds of help you need, but only have part of the day to connect with all the right people or services. By putting everything in one place, it makes it easier and faster for us to meet those needs.”

    She said the center, which will eventually have set operating hours, is currently only hosting occasional programming.

    Ledge Light rents the hall on behalf of the HIC from the Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust ― an HIC partner focusing on expanding affordable housing in the region ― which bought the building in January.

    Trust Executive Director Mirna Martinez on Thursday called The Place a “great innovative idea” that she expects will enable HIC partners in reaching larger segments of the community.

    “It makes sense and it’s necessary,” Martinez said, adding she expects her group will avail itself of the new facilities at some point.

    Muggeo said HIC plans to use existing grant money and explore other funding sources to first tackle the food pantry project, tentatively planned for a summer opening.

    But, beyond the practical program offerings, Muggeo said she wants The Place to also serve as a social hub, a space where residents come to talk, laugh and support each other.

    In that spirit, queries written on large pieces of paper and affixed to walls ask visitors their opinions on everything from the types of classes they’d like to see introduced (yoga, cooking, knitting) to what color of paint ― blue and green were top choices ― should coat the building’s exterior.

    “We saw how important social connectivity is to mitigating loneliness and chronic stress during the pandemic. And it’s still important,” she said. “Maybe you’re got two hours open and planned to chop some carrots. Why not get a group together and come here to do that? It’s always nicer to be together.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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